We took a 200 mph train from Stuttgart, Germany to Paris and arrived in 3 hours. The train looks like a bullet or shiny spaceship and travels with only a whisper of sound. The train station has a metro level. Once you arrive you can walk to the underground metro and take the subway to your neighborhood. We took the metro to “Republique” station and walked 2 blocks to our very cool Airbnb. We met our concierge, a young lady working for the owner, who set us up in the apartment. With a circular stairway and two windows overlooking the bustling street the apartment was very inviting. The fact that we were living so close to the metro station made the place even more stellar, and boy did we take advantage of this convenience. You can go from one end of the city to another for $1.90. But this first afternoon we walked. After settling in, we took a long walk toward the Seine river, and actually made it there. This route was interesting in a surprising way.
We passed many cabinetry and kitchen renovation shops displaying the flashiest set ups. Apparently, there is a lot of updating going on. We also passed many scooter shops with some really funny looking models, but reasonably priced. Across the street were show rooms for Harley Davidson and Triumph motorcycles, probably not so cheap.
These scooter and bike shops were situated in customary Parisian store fronts alongside restaurants or other businesses. We also walked by government buildings alongside wide boulevards and traffic circles. When we reached the Seine river, we observed a wide river contained by carved cement walls with walkways and docking on each side. There appeared to be docked residential houseboats as well as typical river cruise commercial boats and nightclub boats. As we looked down the river, we saw the Notre Dame Cathedral in the distance. That was a first “WOW” moment, but not the last
We had walked so far that we decided a metro return was needed. We found the closest metro station, purchased 2 tickets from a live teller, and got back home quickly and warmly. Our long term friend and coworker from Belgium, Arielle came for dinner and an overnight stay. This is our first visit by friends from home. What a great treat, we talked late into the night, catching up on politics, people and our crazy travel adventures
We spent the first half day with Arielle investigating the Orsay Art Museum, a former train station that was wonderfully renovated. We had lunch there and then had to say goodbye, back to just the two of us. Thankfully only a few weeks until our kids arrive in Rome!! We cannot wait!!
Next we walked down the busy boulevard to the Eiffel Tower. We picked the best month to come to Paris. The weather is clear, sky blue, with only a bit of a chill, but most importantly there are NO LINES. Our experience is that a winter season visit to Paris is very convenient and certainly outweighs the cold.
We stood under the Eiffel Tower for only a few minutes before we rose up on the pulley elevator to the second deck. The structure and views are equally magnificent. The wind was so strong the peak was closed.
We purchased 10 pack Metro tickets and 4-day Museum passes earlier in the day, which made it easy to get around and get through the entry lines for all the sites. We also explored our neighborhood and found bakeries, butchers, and grocery stores which made it easy to cook really great dinners at the Flat, and drink a little wine and have desserts with our meals. What a great day in Paris
We decided to visit Versailles the next day by taking the RER train 10 miles outside of Paris. This was Louis XIV’s magnificent palace situated on a park larger than Central Park in NY. Again the lines were manageable. We did an audio tour of this opulent palace and also enjoyed the large paintings in the Gallery of Battles. We then walked in the palace gardens to the Mari Antoinette’s hide away cottage. The fountains and canals and manicured landscapes reinforced Louis XIV’s mastery over nature as divinity on Earth.
The next time day we went to The Louvre in the morning by Metro. The street level view is impressive by it sheer size. This was King Louis XIV's first Palace until he built Versailles and took the government with him. The magnificent courtyard displays glass pyramids that where designed by an American architect. These where controversial structures for the French, as was the Eiffel Tower when first completed. We liked them. Under the Pyramid was a giant sub level reception area with entrances to the museum collections. Very cool.
As you know, the collection of art is so massive that it would take weeks to see. We decided to use an audio tour from the Rick Steve's series that was organized to show and discuss a series of essential master sculptures and paintings. This tour included, of course, the Mona Liza, Venus De Milo, Winged Victory, and paintings of French battles and Napoleons’ Coronation. See some photos below
After the Louvre, we ate at a lovely French bistro and decided to have roast lamb and the fix’ens. For most meals we split a main and order two starters, this proved difficult in France. We had fun with this waiter, who finally allowed it. When he delivered our meal he ask "Americans?" when we said yes he replied, of course, I know your disposition, very funny.
Forearmed with extra energy we continued our city tour of Paris.
Again using a downloaded Rick Steve's audio walking tour we trekked to the massive Notre Dame Cathedral with the flying buttresses, the Jewish Deportation Monument, then the Latin Quarter, Conciergerie, St. Julien-le-Pauvre, Place St. Michel, then ending at the Pont Neuf bridge over the Seine. The streets were full of Parisians and tourists scurrying to their destinations on this sunny afternoon. See some photos below
Our legs were tired so we hopped onto the Metro and got home quickly. At home we cooked a simple dinner, drank some wine and port, and downloaded some American films to watch. Tomorrow will be Sunday, which is a work day of laundry, planning, computer work, and phone calls to family. We have an appointment with the US Consulate for new passports. Our passports have so many stamps that we need more pages. Unfortunately, the rules have changed. No pages, but only newly issued passports and as of November 2016, one month after we left, photos must be without glasses. The extra photos we brought are with our normal glasses. Since it’s Sunday, there are no studios open for photos—we checked. Hopefully all will work out as the needed forms have been completed and downloaded.
We finished Sunday dinner when we overheard chanting crowds and drumming. Looking out our street side windows, we notice a large peaceful gathering of people at the intersection. They were involved in a choreographed march in place where the main action was upper body movements coordinated with the beat of the drums. Later there was singing in unison. We could open our windows and we were able to look at and hear them better. It was an interesting congregation of spirited people. Well it's now 10 pm and the crowds are now chanting, but no music--bad sign, as well police cars are at the end of the street. We’ll keep you posted. The crowds left without incident. Apparently, the right to strike and protest is accepted in France.
It's morning. After the passport stuff, we hope to see Sainte-Chapelle, and do some general sightseeing before we move on to Normandy, the site of the D-Day landing. We may add some other information to the blog.
There was 2 lines at the US Consulate, one for passport issues and the other longer line for Visas to enter the US. We met one gal who had her purse and passport stolen and then another gal who had moved to Paris with her little daughter and needed a renewal. The little girl was sharp as a tack and had absorbed the French language in her classes. The line moved quickly and luckily the US furnished a photo booth to resolve our glasses issue. Our forms were good, but because we were not seeking emergency passports on the spot, our request had to go back to the States to be reviewed and then reissued. They promised to email us within 3 days if approved, ok—no problem, then contact us upon receipt so we could pick them up. What can you do? We will have to backtrack to Paris for the pickup.
With business done, we went to see Sainte-Chapelle. It is a buttressed structure that allows for 15 towering stained glass windows. It is very beautiful inside and had been recently refurbished. The Chapelle was built at the request of an earlier king, King Louis VI, as a place to harbor the “thorn crown of Jesus “which he purchased from Judaea. He paid more for the crown then the Chapelle cost to build. Hope it was authentic, but in any event the thorn crown is now kept at Notre Dame.
On our final day in Paris, we visited the Arc de Triomphe, a war memorial for lost soldiers commissioned by Napoléon, which is the centerpiece of the Champs-Elysee, a broad boulevard built by King Louis XIV, and where 12 streets come to this single point and roundabout. Then we traveled on the Funicular, a cable car, to the highest point in Paris known as Montmartre to obtain another high panoramic view the city and to visit the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, aka Sacred Heart Basilica. This church interior uses massive mosaic scenes to honor Christianity. The dome was particularly splendid. We walked down the hills to the surrounding neighborhood that is historically known for its artist colony and bohemian culture, also night life, as it was the location of the Moulin Rouge.
We chose this neighborhood for late lunch and were rewarded by great food and views of the street life. We rode the Metro subway all over the place to see these sites and also managed to get back to the Republique station without problems. Our neighborhood is great, being so convenient for travel and with easy shopping. We saw many of the most famous sites of Paris, but there are tons of other stuff to do and see on a future trip.
Tomorrow we check out and catch the train to Normandy and the D-day battlefields.